Demonetized Shaadi: Bollywood Style!

Dear Reader,

Hi! Here’s a tweak piece on the demonetization and the immense opportunities it has created for Karan Johar 😛 This piece appeared in my column titled “Tweakonomics” in the Hindu Business Line today. You can read it at http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/black-money-and-political-parties/article9374624.ece; else read it here directly. Enjoy!

——————————————————————————–

The scene opens in Netaji’s office, where Netaji is sitting glued to the TV listening raptly to the debate on demonetisation. Such is his interest that he has consumed only seven cups of tea since the morning, instead of the usual 11. A particular piece of news makes him sit up suddenly straight and holler for Clever Guptaji.

Netaji (in a deafening noise): GUPTAJI, GUPTAJI, where are you? Come in here. ASAP!

Clever Guptaji (scared): What happened, Sir? Have you discovered yet another stash of ₹1,000 notes? I was telling you, Sir. We can’t have only ₹40 crore in cash. There’s bound to be at least another ₹50 crore somewhere. But you wouldn’t listen to me, Sir. The moment they announced that only those with a clean image and less than ₹50 crore cash would get an LS ticket for next season, you had to shoot off your mouth about how squeakily clean you are. Tch, tch, at least you could have said ₹49 crore! But just ₹40 crores! The others were looking pityingly at you, Sir. You have now really lost your image in the party.

Netaji (annoyed): GUPTAJI! Stop talking nonsense! See what they are saying here in the news! Families with marriages can get up to ₹2.5 lakh in cash.

Clever Guptaji: Errrr, so?

Netaji: So? So? Go out immediately and tell all our karyakartas and partymen to book marriage halls, gardens and lawns. And it must look like the bookings were done in September itself. Even if you get 200 of our party workers to book halls, we can get at least ₹5 crores converted into the new currency. Ha! Do this immediately, before the other parties start looking for marriage avenues.

Clever Guptaji (protesting): Sir, this is getting really, really difficult. Our party workers are tired from so much stress, Sir. The moment they see me, most run in the opposite direction.

Netaji (annoyed): What nonsense, Guptaji! What stress do they have? Getting rid of just ₹20-30 lakh should not cause any stress at all, Guptaji!

Guptaji (panicking): But Sir, please understand the field reality! Our partymen have already posed as housemaids, drivers, gardeners in the last one week. Some have even acted as construction workers, truck drivers and even mine workers, Sir.

Netaji (impressed): Wow! Mine workers!

Guptaji (wincing at the memory): The problem is that since it worked in Bihar, the idiots thought it’ll work in Mumbai as well. Anyway, we next moved them to villages where they’ve already acted as farmers, shepherds, landless labourers, shopkeepers, tailors and even as MNREGA workers. Till that indelible ink started getting used, they were working three shifts, Sir. Farmer in the morning, landless by afternoon and driver in the evening. Some dedicated old handers even switched genders. Karan Johar is now recruiting all extras exclusively from our party, Sir.

Netaji (interested): That’s extraordinary! I must ask him to endorse me when I get my LS ticket next season! But, coming back to business, if we have such talented people, it is now easy. Just book the halls, and get some really nice wedding cards printed. And tell them to go into the banks wearing nice jewellery. Half of them can be parents of brides and the other half will be the parents of grooms.

Clever Guptaji (muttering): Let me call Karan Johar. He can start casting for Demonetised Dulhaniya Le Jayenge.

Surgical, Purgical and Mergical Strikes in the Indian Budget

The surgical strikes carried out by the Indian Army have taken the imagination of the country by storm and rightly so.

In the meanwhile, “Surgical strike” has become the absolutely new buzzword in town. Such is the lure of the word that Chetan Bhagat has immediately decided on his new book: Surgical Strike-Point-(at)-Someone. The fellow is simply incurable.

Newshour has declared 8 weeks of Surgical Strike analysis and apparently been calling up Pakistani politicians furiously to book their dates for the period. This single-handedly has caused dizzying levels of relief for Indian politicians, who for the first time in many days, feel completely free to make idiotic statements and mini-scams without fear of being grilled by the One and Only. The PR team of the UPA scion’s Kisan Yatra is said to have collapsed amidst mingled tears of joy and relief. The Kisans though, are on the run.

B-Schools, tired with meaningless terms such as “leveraging marketing strengths to enhance ground zero” are simply overwhelmed by the discovery of such a powerful new word. Harvard Business School has now officially included a new strategy in the corporate mantras: The Strike with a capital S. Bewildered students are now being asked to “leverage marketing Strike potential to enhance ground zero”. Financial Management Journals, which hitherto described “Strike Price” as the price at which a security can be purchased due to an option, now also include the definition of the “Surgical Strike Price”. This is the price at which security can be enhanced when no options are left with us anymore.

Amidst such corporate celebrations, however, the FM has been sulking. Had he known the term before, he could have leveraged it to enhance ground zero, errr, to highlight main points of the fiscal policy. How? Well, getting the GST passed was no less than a surgical strike, was it? To trump the Opposition in LS elections so as to get the majority in the Lower House, and then to diplomatically isolate them by highlighting their attempts to stall the Bill, was just the start. And then, those incessant sessions with the State Committees to understand the sticky issues and accommodate the sensible demands. Hadn’t he too, spent sleepless nights, before the passage of the Bill?

Take the case of removing the Plan – Non Plan design of the Budget.  For the first time, the Budget will be presented, way before its usual February date, without the usual priorities as suggested by a Five Year Plan. The Budget accounts will only be classified into the Revenue and the Capital Accounts, with zero mention of the legendary Plan and Non-Plan Expenditure classification. To remove the influence of the Five Year Plan from the Budget as well as do away with a separate Railway Budget has been no mean feat; a “purgical” strike, anyone?

Hmmm. And that masterstroke of creating the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC), while at the same time allowing the Governor the autonomy of a casting vote. He had simply changed the dynamics of the game; now there would also be growth combatants together with inflation warriors within the RBI. He had successfully merged growth objectives with inflation management, and how! “Oh, I should have called it my “mergical” strike” he thought wistfully.

Of course, the decision of the MPC, in its very first policy review, to slash rates has not gone down well with all economists. Dr. Rajan, the erstwhile Governor shuddered delicately in Chicago, when quizzed about his reaction to the rate cut. “It’s more of a “splurgical” strike,” he said. “A classic case of too many cooks spoiling the Booth.”

 

Econ Mom on Cricket, Sarfarosh and the Nirmal Gram Yojana

Lord help me! It’s vacation time and Lil One is in top form. It’s cricket, 24 by 7. I have grave doubts that he may have completely forgotten me by now and generally identifies me as the screaming woman who is forever telling him to take a shower and look a little more clean. I am thinking of buying a bowler shaped umpire hat to just get his attention and to declare that Mom has “run out” of patience. Sigh!

He wakes up really late and then has a shower that will put the meanest water conservationist to shame (yesterday he emerged from the bath in a record 55 seconds looking dirtier than he looked when he headed in), gulps down breakfast and then literally rushes for his galli cricket. Lunch is but a cricket affair. All of my culinary feats (well, to be fair, that just includes cut mangoes, sigh!) lie neglected in the discussion of Lil One’s runs, his sixes and fours, his amazing new style of bowling and ouch! injuries. “I got that bruise when I dived in order to take that catch, Mom. You should have seen it! And this one is, well, the opposition team didn’t like the fact that I did a hat trick.” I had a mental vision of Lil One running giggling and teasing followed by ruffianish kids holding bats and stumps.

“Please! Do you guys go after each other when someone does a hat-trick?”

He shrugged and rolled his eyes at me as if to say that this is the basic rule of galli cricket 101.

“In our days,” I started, “cricket was called a gentleman’s game.”

“Yes!” snorted Lil One immediately, “and they had to be gentlemen for 5 days! How boring, Mom! Our way is better, more direct. 5 hours, if there’s no hat trick.”

“And if there is one?”

“5 minutes!” he grinned evilly at me.

Gawd! Boys! I don’t remember ever running after another child armed with a bat in all of my childhood. The max damage I guess we girls inflicted on each other was biting or pulling each other’s hair; hmmm, though I remember Mom’s lecture after I had clawed the face of this girl, when I was 6, after she called me a monkey. I also remember that nothing in the lecture had managed to wipe off that vague feeling of …satisfaction I had after that amazing fight. “Genes, my dear” whispered my darker mind to me evilly, but I shrugged off that feeling uncomfortably. And coming back to the present sharply, I ticked him off in my usual Maya Sarabhai tone. “Running after each other with bats” I told him with an upturned nose, “is hooliganistically middle class.”

“Heehee! Mom, can I please have another Rs.20?”

“What! You lost the ball you bought yesterday too?” I looked at him in dismay. You get a rubber ball for Rs. 20 and a tennis ball for Rs. 40 and a season ball for Rs. 150. A single window pane costs Rs. 80 to fix and an entire window, well, Rs. 200. Guess how I know all of this? Sigh!

“Mommy, Swapnil hit a six and it went over the rooftop…his mom won’t get him a new ball, please Mom?”

“But really…”

Lil One suddenly adapted Veeran’s character from the movie Sarfarosh (He’s really good at mimicry). “Yeh bat hain. Lekin agar tumne mujhe Rs. 20 nahi deeye, toh yeh kya hain? Patthar hain, patthar!”

Interesting, thought Econ Mom, that dialogue from Sarfarosh. “Patthar hain, patthar,” is what Veeran says to convince the arms seller that a gun without bullets is as good as stone. Interesting, because I had thought of the same dialogue just yesterday, when I was on a field visit to this remote hamlet in Raigad.

The past month has been extremely taxing. I’m currently working on a project for the State Election Commission and we’ve been all over Maharashtra, talking to Zilla Parishad members and Government officials in remote, faraway Panchayat Samitis. It’s been taxing, but I’m not complaining. The learning’s been so huge that it takes away the physical discomfort of travelling in the burning sun.

Now, as we all know, the spread of a village is not too huge geographically. But this village has some “wadis” or small hamlets included in it, some of which are 17 kms away from the main market of the village! The reason of including these into the village is that the population in those wadis is hardly 150-200 tribals and hence, these wadis have not been granted the status of a separate village.

Now, there was this tribal lady (a Gram Panchayat member) who had come walking 17 kms down the mountains just to meet us and be part of the Gram Panchayat meeting. When I expressed dismay that she had to walk just to see us, she shrugged. “That’s fine. We do this everyday anyways.”

Our team was there to understand the dynamics of a gram panchayat with reservations for tribals. One point led to another and we were soon asking the villagers what their plans were for the development of the village. “We really want to get the Nirmal Gram Puraskar in the next couple of years,” said their Sarpanch.

For the uninitiated, Nirmal Gram award is given to villages that completely stop open defecation and achieve full sanitation.

“We built toilet blocks last year itself in our wadi!” declared the tribal lady, who’d come walking down from her wadi.

“That’s amazing!” I said. “So is your wadi completely sanitized?”

“Madam, we built toilet blocks because there was a scheme under which we got funds for it. But there’s no water supply. Our wadi is in such a remote location that water supply is a permanent problem. So all the community toilets are extremely dirty and no one uses it. Open defecation is…normal.”

There you go. It’s such a shame. In the past one month, I’ve come across such umpteen horrors from the field, where you see how hotch-potch implementation creates really bad issues. Whoever said that India is a poor country? We are spending money by the crores, literally be the crores, on thoughtless, hopeless, badly implemented programs, so that next year people will come back craving for more from corrupt officials who don’t care a damn.

“But you are an elected member of this Panchayat. How did you contest elections if you do not have a toilet block at home?”

“Madam, there are only 2 houses in our wadi that have attached toilets. Ours is one of these and hence I could contest.”

“But then, how do you get the water for your toilet facilities?”

Now here, the lady looked distinctly uncomfortable. What she said next really tore at my heart.

“See Madam, we are relatively well off in our wadi. We have a bullock cart. So we fetch water by loading pails into the bullock cart. I tried telling the other people in my wadi that they too should get water from the river and use it to keep the toilet clean. But no one else has bullock carts. And when you walk 3 kms in one direction just to get 4 pails of drinking water in this hot sun, Madam, there’s not enough life left in you to walk another 6 kms to get water for sanitation. No one is willing to do this. I’ve antagonized all other women in my wadi by telling them to get water for the toilet blocks. They believe that rich people like us do not understand their problems. So now you tell me, how can the Nirmal Gram Yojana help my wadi in which water supply is itself an issue?”

Nirmal Gram cannot happen in a suspended framework. Water has to reach the villages. It has to be stored properly. Only then can the funds for building toilets be sanctioned. Also, someone will have to also look at the feasibility of maintaining the toilet facility once it’s ready. And that someone is supposed to be the elected member in the Gram Panchayat or Panchayat Samiti or Zilla Parishad! Where the hell are these people? And why is no one working for these outcomes? This is just going to become another yojana, under which we build toilet facilities which in fact create more sanitation and health hazards than a scenario under which there are no toilet blocks.

I thought of not only toilets without water, but also of the pathetic quality of politicians who have not been able to drive this change in the past 70 years since independence and my mind said passionately, angrily, in a Veeran tone, “Patthar hain, patthar.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hemline Economics

Dear Reader,

When Rabri Devi made that errr…awkward observation about the length of the RSS trousers, most took it to be a political gimmick. But did you know that she did this because she wants to be RBI Governor?

The real connections in hemlines and GDP cycles appeared in my column “Tweakonomics” in the Hindu Business Line today. You can read it at http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/hemline-economics/article8377758.ece, else read it here directly. Enjoy!

——————————————————————————————-

Trousers today, growth tomorrow?

The market crash of 1928 created a slump hitherto unseen and as the GDP of the US went into the Great Depression, women, who could no longer afford silk stockings, chose longer skirts to cover themselves.

It’s a debate that has been around for long. Are the cyclicality in GDP and fashion really interrelated? Economists sniggered, feminists roared, designers shrugged and the debate raged on. As the global economy bettered after WWII, hemlines continued to rise and the mini-skirts as we know them today, made their entry into the fashion world in the 1960s, coinciding neatly with one of the most expansive phases of the globe.

Come 1970s and skirts lengthened to reflect the oil shocks and stagflation. The lost decade of the 1980s is also best remembered for the “maxi” wave with full length skirts, whilst the housing boom in 2005-06 saw hemlines rise madly. Full length “peasant” skirts made a comeback in 2011, only after the economy failed to recover after the great financial crisis, prompting the CNBC to carry a feature titled “Hemlines are plunging, is economy next?”

The “vital statistics” on this one came as late as 2010, when Marjolein van Baardwijk and Philip Hans Franses from the Econometrics Institute, Erasmus School of Economics, decided to “figure” out the truth using data based research. They actually went on to collect monthly data on the hemline from 1921 to 2009 and then contrasted it with the monthly GDP cycle as indicated in the data by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER).

The “long and short” of the debate, they conclude, is that hemlines are led by the GDP by around three years globally. Thus, a low growth rate today could prompt longer skirt lengths in 2019.

“That is exactly what our leader was saying!” reacted the spokesperson of the RJD. “And they accused her of being a woman of the 19th century! But this is a truly forward looking leader with terrific economic insights.” The economy is not doing well at all under the NDA Government. The decision of the RSS to shift to full length trousers is an acknowledgement of the state of the economy.

The GDP is plunging today, the trouser length will plunge tomorrow! The RJD has also gone on to say that Rabri Devi may well be on her way to becoming the next finance minister of Bihar and if things go right, will eventually head to Mint Street to become the RBI governor. “It’s really rather easy,” said the spokesperson. “All you have to do is watch the hemline. When hemlines fall, the interest rates have to fall pro-cyclically.”

The RBI reacted sharply by stating that any decisions to slash or increase rates are only taken after rigorously analysing multilateral causalities in economic fundamentals within a general equilibrium framework. When the RJD did not understand, a special statement was issued in the vein of popular economics. “Relationships in hemlines and GDP are fictitious. Any resemblance to correlations, past or present, is purely coincidental.”

Marketing, Economics, Politics and a dash of Bajirao- Mastani

I am sure you are here because the title doesn’t make sense. Well, however, I have stuck to Basics of Writing 101 like a leech and the title of my blog actually is about everything that I will write about in this article: Some marketing strategies, some politics, some economics and a bit, ok, a huge bit on the Bajirao- Mastani controversy.

First things first.  I saw the movie. This is largely thanks to Nephew, who came visiting us yesterday. Nephew is personally responsible for the success of the Make CDs in India campaign and the Immediately CD Banaao Yojana.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the Confederation of Indian CD Industries award him for having contributed in sound amounts to their Awaas Yojana as well as to the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan of their ickle ones.

Dig into his sack, and you are likely to find the latest movies, all available in fairly good prints. Rumor has it that Nephew was given a sneak peek into the Force even before it had awakened.

Nephew’s Arrival is normally accompanied by yelps of delight by Lil One, whose eyes light up in anticipation of the treat. Hubby too keeps a supply of ready-to-eat popcorn to coincide with the Departure, so that we can then have the entire movie experience, popcorn included.

This time Nephew had brought two movies, Dilwale and Bajirao Mastani. There was a split vote, with Hubby wanting to watch the controversial historical film and Lil One hankering after the SRK-Varun Dhawan combo.  I cast the deciding vote.

I voted for Bajirao-Mastani, partly because I didn’t want to watch it. I had obviously seen the Pinga trailers before and had not been amused. To have Kashi bai, the Peshwa queen, drape the navvari sari in that unbecoming, revealing fashion, was an error of the worst degree, and coming from an experienced filmmaker like Bhansali, was unforgivable to my simple way of looking at things. I am no historian, but you don’t need to be one to know that there was no way that Kashi bai would ever dance a pinga with Mastani. We are talking about an extremely conservative, traditional, Brahmin Peshwa family in Pune. Again, add to it the confronting yet condoning look that Kashi bai gives Mastani during the dance and the weird lyrics and you are left feeling distinctly annoyed.

So I watched the movie, waiting for the scenes where I would object, dislike it some more, criticize it some more and then tell others not to watch it.

It didn’t happen. For most part, the movie is compelling and the viewer is pulled into the storyline. The Bhansali grandeur and his treatment of the emotional quotient is engaging. At no point is it crass or vulgar. However, Pinga was still unacceptable. I did not like it earlier, as a dance by itself, and I did not like it in the movie, as a part of the larger story. It does not fit. By the time you move to the rather tragic end, however, you do forget the irritation that the song created in your mind.

After watching the movie, the scenes that I remember are not the ones from the dance. Pinga is not really Bajirao-Mastani.

And this is the fatal error involved in the movie. The product is not bad, the packaging is. Had the dance not been released earlier, the entire controversy would have reduced considerably. You cannot release the song which is the most removed from the movie as a first look. No matter what your fetish with the two lead heroines dancing together. This cannot be the first look because it is not the final impression. Bhansali erred as a film maker in creating the song, but I think he erred more fatally in the marketing of his magnum opus. It is not enough that you create well, it is equally, sometime even more important that you project well.

This is a costly mistake by Bhansali, and one with a powerful parallel from the world of Econ Mom. But again, I am not only going to talk about economics. As the blog title promises, I will want to talk about politics as well.

NDA Government, 1999. Came to power promising reforms. And delivered significantly huge outlays on, hold your breath, social sector reforms.

They started the Food for work program (which later got hyped as the MNREGA during the UPA regime in 2005), created huge spending on Sarva Shiksha Abhyaan, looked into targeting the PDS etc.

However, whenever asked what they did for the country, they projected growth, not distribution as their core areas. The talk always centred on the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), the telecom policy, the Look East policy. They created their movie (and a good one at that) carefully looking at distributional aspects, but the first look and the lasting look they gave it is one of growth.

Contrast this to the UPA Bhansali saga. UPA came to power with a coalition. While most people do snigger sarcastically when they think about the UPA achievements, the fact is that UPA carried out a lot of economic reforms to keep the pace going. It was they who rationalized tax structures, got the SEZ Act passed, got RTI into place, got the Land Acquisition Bill changed and proposed the GST structure.

However, whilst talking about their achievements, well, ummmm, they firstly didn’t speak much at all. And when they did, they chose to speak about the Common Minimum Program, which incidentally, true to its name, seems to have delivered commonly, the minimum of output. UPA always projected wiping tears off everyone’s face (are you trying to make me laugh?) as a national priority. What was projected was their achievement in rural employment through MNREGA and food security and education. Rahul Gandhi did nothing to change that impression through that ummmm, fateful interview on women empowerment.

If economic reform is the product, political talk is the marketing ploy. That the product has to be robust goes without saying. But if parties are not wily enough to play their political cards correctly, you land up in a fatal error despite creating good economic momentum. A fatal pinga error.

Econ Mom, Mrs. Phadke and Sanskaari Bond

Econ Mom clashes fairly badly with Mrs. Phadke many times.

Whenever I meet with my innocent (read non-economist) homemaker neighbors, there is almost always the discussion on Mehengai. “Such inflation, I tell you. Everything is totally unaffordable. And this Government is not even doing much about it. Where are the Acchhe Din, tell me!” This last, rather aggressive question, is normally directed towards me, with that look in the eye that it is my personal mistake that inflation is so high and the acche din are nowhere in sight.

“Errr, well, you know, currently inflation levels are actually technically not that high,” I begin diffidently only to be drowned in various tones of indignant protests.

“But Dal is soooooooooo expensive. Soap, oil, mobile services…everything is expensive. The maids are constantly asking for a raise. And this Prem Sagar grocer will be the death of me. Everything is sooo expensive.” That’s Mrs. Joshi, who stays in my building and has got extremely set and often err..wrong opinions on what is wrong with the world in general and with me in particular.

I squirm uncomfortably but continue, in what I hope is a calming voice I adopt in the classroom. “Yes, but being expensive and being inflated are two different things, you know. And while the Government can and ought to take steps on this, inflation control is more of a central banking thing, you know…”

My problem is that Econ Mom looks at inflation rather technically and dispassionately and clinically. She knows that CPI is doing ok and WPI is in the negative zone.

Of course, such is not the case with Mrs. Phadke. When the delivery boy from the aforementioned Prem Sagar comes home with the grocery and the unavoidable bills, I too don on the tone that would put Mrs. Joshi to shame to grumble, “Such inflation! This grocer will be the death of me. Where are the Acche Din gone…”

Econ Mom doesn’t like subsidies. It’s not that Econ Mom is heartless, but she is analytical. With limited funds to spend on unlimited infrastructural wants, Econ Mom can never quite fathom how subsidies can be prioritized. But my Gods know that Mrs. Phadke is not quite averse to the thing. When I read recently about the Government now mulling over compulsorily doing away with the LPG subsidy, Econ Mom quietly appreciated the thought. Mrs. Phadke simply shuddered.

Econ Mom is quite the cool customer. She is market oriented, has opinions on Sensex movements and hates controls on anyone and anything. Mrs. Phadke is welfare oriented, buys gold and doesn’t mind controls, so long as they are on others.

There was a fun encounter between the two, interestingly, at the local cinema. Hubby suddenly got us tickets for Spectre as a surprise and there we were in the theatre, waiting for Daniel Craig to floor us with some terrific action sequences. All three of us are huge Bond fans and hence had been following the progress of Spectre quite actively.

When the Sanskaari Bond trolls started after the Censor Board put in its say, I had a lot of fun and was laughing with glee at the different things people were putting up on the Sanskaari Bond. And when Econ Mom read that Bond asks for M’s Aashirwad before starting off on a new mission, she couldn’t stop laughing. Wicked! The troll attack on the Censor Board’s action seemed to be the best form of protest to Econ mom. When humor wounds, it can wound big time. The name’s humor. Black humor.

As we settled in our seats, however, I got a bit, just that teeny weeny bit, anxious. That’s Mrs. Phadke, of course. While Lil One is now 12, coming to the theatre for a Bond film with no remote control in my hand was causing me quite the jitters. You don’t want those questions being asked in front of 35 other strangers looking at you amusedly, tittering at your awkward hushings of the indignant and i-want-to-know-right-now queries. Sigh!

But then, Mrs. Phadke remembered the Censor Board. Heehee! And Sanskaari Bond suddenly didn’t seem wicked anymore. He just seemed perfect! I tell you, had he actually taken M’s Ashirwad by touching her photo-frame hanging in his living room, Mrs. Phadke wouldn’t have minded then! Econ Mom did whisper quietly, “Hypocrite!” into my ear but Mrs. Phadke happily dug some more into her popcorn tub, content to be watching Bond with her family. Thank God for the Sanskaari Bond!

 

Netaji gets smart on Award Waapsi

The scene again opens in the political office, where Netaji is washing down a large plate of samosas with his third cup of Chai.

Netaji (with a loud burp): Aah! Now I feel good! I tell you Guptaji, creating constant innovative campaigns on non-issues is as draining as a work-out. I feel so hungry all the time.

Clever Guptaji (mumbling): You could try some food for thought, sometime. That would good for health of the country as well.

Netaji (sharply): What is that, Guptaji? What were you mumbling about? My food intake?

Clever Guptaji (sycophantically): No, no, Sahib. I was just saying you should take care of yourself. The country needs people like you, Sir. That is what I was thinking.

Netaji (appeased): Hmmm. So tell me Guptaji, how do you like our latest campaign? I tell you, at our meeting yesterday, there were all talking about intolerance. The High Up people said that they are feeling intolerant towards intolerance. Such intellectual debates! They seem highly satisfied that such an issue has been created out of practically nothing! It takes great creativity and thought!

Clever Guptaji: I really think it was a masterstroke, Sir! And then all those people returning awards; it became quite literally, a literary attack on the Government.

Netaji: Yes, yes. This award-waapsi campaign hit the Government alright! Say Guptaji, I was just thinking, I too want to return an award.

Guptaji (in alarm): But Sahib, you have never received one. Unless you are counting that medal for wrestling you got in Std VII, which you display so proudly. And Sir, I wonder whether returning the wrestling medal to the school will be news enough to get the media running after it.

Netaji (annoyed): Of course, I wasn’t thinking of the wrestling medal. Don’t get smart with me, Guptaji. But then, I am desperate to return something. What should I return?

Clever Guptaji: Well Sir, there is all that money you earned in those real estate deals. Optionally, those stock options in that company you favoured by giving them the land. There’s also those dollars in the Swiss account, 65 godowns simply full of Tur Dal, 500 acres of land in that swanky township, 110 kilos of gold kept in the bank lockers, Rs. 320 crores in property you bought in your wife’s name..should I go on, Sir? Instead of reforming the PDS, even if they reform you Sir, the prospects of the country will brighten up! GDP growth rate will start ticking, dead assets will come alive, BoP may look better, more transparency will inspire more confidence in markets and food inflation will go down. You can return the fundamentals to the country, Sir.

Netaji (earnestly): Hmmm, you are quite smart today, Guptaji! But still, all these things you mentioned cannot be returned. Much as I want to, I cannot help the FM better the fundamentals of this country. Had you told me to return all these hard-earned assets of mine to the country last week, I would have given it up with a smile on my face, Guptaji. After all, India’s economic interests come before mine. But alas! It’s too late now.

Clever Guptaji: How, Sir?

Netaji: It’s my favourite actor Anupam Kher. The good fellow says that there is no intolerance in India! Returning stuff is unfashionable and foolish. Aapsi karo, waapsi nahi! Intolerance has been around for the longest time. Why single out anyone? Bollywood calls it selective outrage, Guptaji! If I return my assets, I will be charged with selective outrage by the I-T Department, Guptaji! No, no. We can’t let that happen.

Clever Guptaji (quietly): I don’t know about the good actor, but you politicians are truly Anupam, Netaji!